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'High School Musical' delivers a lasting note

 Class act: In this scene from 'High School Musical Jr.,' Ms. Darbus goes Shakespeare on her homeroom class.
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Date published: 1/3/2013



The energetic, high-paced antics of the young actors in Riverside Children's Theater's current production of "Disney's High School Musical Jr." convey not only the dramatic tensions and critical relationships during those volatile teen years, but also a message for life that will benefit audiences long after the curtains close.

"The key message is brought home time and again throughout the play," said Jason Michael, the director of the production. "Be yourself and don't let peer pressure make you afraid of stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new."

The action unfolds amid a background of typical high-school cliques--including jocks, "brainiacs" and thespians. Destined to be drawn together, characters Troy and Gabriella are scorned by their fellow basketball players and academics for crossing their established clique boundaries, as the day of the Big Game and the Science Decathlon approaches.

In a misguided effort to bring Troy fully back into their ranks, the cliques sabotage the couple's relationship, but, seeing how their friends have been devastated by their ploy, both groups work together to repair the breach.

But, all is still not well at East High. The self-proclaimed queen of the school's stage, self-absorbed Sharpay, sees the couple as a threat to her clinching the lead role in the upcoming musical, and she hatches a plan that will prevent Troy and Gabriella from auditioning. Once again, the couple's respective cliques join forces to thwart her plot.

"Basically, the theme is a variation on 'Romeo and Juliet,'" said Michael, "only it's set in a high school and nobody dies!"

In the end, Sharpay receives her just comeuppance, while the teens learn the value of pursuing their own dreams.

Choreographers Mary Anne Furey and Anthony Williams skillfully marshal the talents of a talented and athletic crew of actors in such fast-paced numbers as "Status Quo" and "Getcha Head in the Game" (a virtual basketball practice, complete with dribbling and hoop shots). And the audience's spirits will soar as the entire cast joins together on stage for the finale in "We're All in This Together"--a celebration of the fact that, in spite of our differences, our hearts and hopes have much in common.

Michael notes the unique value of the experience of a live production.

"In the theater, you see people going through their circumstances right before your eyes. You can become part of it and become lost in it," he said. "I think it is cathartic in a way that movies and television aren't, as you suspend your disbelief and begin to participate in it. And people in the audience are connected on a very immediate level as they share the same experience and feel one another's emotional response."

With regard to this production, in particular, he adds, "This show will be a lot of fun and there is a good lesson to be learned. In the end, it's a play that will make you feel good and feel good about yourself!"

Collette Caprara is a local writer and author.

What: "Disney's High School Musical Jr." Where: Riverside Theater, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg When: Through Jan. 26. Saturdays: 1 p.m. lunch, 2 p.m. performance. Selected Tuesdays and Thursdays: 10:15 a.m. lunch, 11:30 a.m. performance. (Call for specific performance dates.) Cost: Saturday matinees $16 (lunch and show); Tuesdays and Thursdays $12 (show only, bring bag lunch). Info/reservations: 540/370-4300; riversidedt.com (Children's Theater)